Where's the beef?

Published on 21 June 2011 in Sustainability and Communities

Research by SRUC (formerly SAC) has led to the adoption of new breeding systems for beef cattle that improves the health, welfare and economic performance of livestock in the UK and beyond. Some £23M of added value has been secured at the farm gate through genetic improvement of cattle over a 10 year programme in addition to consumers enjoying continued supplies of improved meat quality. More effective selection for livestock breeding is the key to ensuring food security.


Key Challenges

Breeding and selection for improved livestock performance is a complex, expensive and long term approach but highly cost-effective. Meeting the needs of consumers for high quality affordable meat across a wide range of farming enterprises required a step change in efficient breeding and selection. New demands on farming systems to improve production efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve animal welfare standards drive the revision of traditional approaches. The economic survival of the industry and supplies of home-produced beef are paramount to Scottish livelihoods.

Key Benefits

The beef sector contributes approximately £3 billion a year to UK agricultural output, and in a globally competitive market place we require a very efficient food supply chain. This SRUC research has ensured that the performance of beef cattle can be improved across a wide range of characteristics to meet the demands of healthy and affordable diets. For example, leaner cuts of meat with less waste coupled with high levels of meat-eating and nutritional quality provide substantial economic and social benefits. The internal rate of return on annual investments in our beef breeding research programme is estimated to be 15%. This leading research has world-wide utility as demand for higher protein diets follows global prosperity trends.

With the expectation of improving living standards, this research has to address the need for livestock production systems to lower their carbon footprint and become more efficient. Again, selection for livestock characteristics that improve their disease resistance, convert food more efficiently into meat, and reduce emissions assist the agricultural industry to play its part in reducing climate change. This research is addressing global challenges and making a positive impact at local, national and international levels.

SRUC research has ensured that the performance of beef cattle can be improved across a wide range of characteristics to meet the demands of healthy and affordable diets.

In addition to the direct contribution to the economy of the livestock sector, SRUC in partnership with the University of Edinburgh and the Roslin Institute have created a commercial business in research and consultancy (EGENES). This business is focused upon providing a scientific basis for commercial livestock improvement. Thus our research tools and know-how are sold to customers that are responsible for substantial proportions of the livestock production industry. Products include the tools for selection; estimated breeding values, selection indexes and other scoring systems. Customers can use these tools to pursue improved economic performance, improved product quality, improved animal health and welfare, and reduced environmental impact.

The collective support from Scottish Government, UK Government, the Meat and Livestock Commission as was and latterly QMS and EBLEX over the last 10 years has secured an excellent foundation to provide leverage to obtain a wide range of new funding sources. These included the world leading research on the integration of advanced measurement techniques of meat eating quality online in the abattoir (funded by the Scottish Government and QMS) and a new TSB/BBSRC funded project to implement genomic evaluation of beef carcass VIA traits. The introduction of the new Scottish Government research programme 2011-16 will bring new dimensions of research work looking at the selection for reduced methane emissions of cattle and improved health and nutritional value of meat as well as the optimal implementation of genomic selection in beef.

A group of calvesResearcher taking samples out of cold storage

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Find Out More

Meat quality: For more information contact Prof. Rainer Roehe (Rainer.Roehe@saruc.ac.uk) and Dave Ross (Dave.Ross@sruc.ac.uk). Breeding Programmes: Dr Tim Roughsedge (Tim.Roughsedge@sruc.ac.uk) and Kirsty Moore (Kirsty.Moore@sruc.ac.uk).


Dr Tim Roughsedge Tim.Roughsedge@sruc.ac.uk


Sustainability and Communities